Generations of scholars, from the inception of the modern study of Buddhism, have established a long-lasting and relatively stable consensus regarding the texts and history of early Buddhism. While inevitably subject to the usual kinds of uncertainty, incompleteness, and evolution, this consensus has provided a framework for the positive development of our understanding of the Buddha, his teachings, and his community. This consensus has been challenged by the prominent Amercian academic, Gregory Schopen. His essays have been the most influential reassessment in the history of Buddhist studies. Many of his ideas are regarded as virtually canonical in modern academia, and have permeated far beyond the normal reach of Buddhist academic work. However, his arguments are far better regarded among non-specialists than among those who actually study early Buddhism. This essay shows a number of flaws and problems with Schopen’s work on early Buddhism, by implication supporting the traditional consensus.
For what it is worth, we present here the details concerning the names of the originators of the Mahāsaṅghika heresy, according to the various translations of Vasumitra. Kumārajīva (T 2032) mentions three names only, which he identifies as bhikkhus, not groups. In the Tibetan translation by Dharmākara (Tanjur, Mdo. XC, 11) the same three names […]
Pachow and Prebish both regard the differences in the sekhiya (training) rules of the pāṭimokkha as evidence for the antiquity of the Mahāsaṅghika Vinaya. Prebish further argues, based on the Śāriputraparipṛcchā, that the differences in sekhiya rules were the decisive factor in causing the first schism between the Mahāsaṅghikas and Sthaviras. I have elsewhere given […]
Gotiputa Willis attempts to determine the likely time of Gotiputa’s death. Assuming that the stupa was built soon after the death of Gotiputa’s students, and that there was a 25–30 year gap between Gotiputa’s death and the death of his students, he estimates that Gotiputa died around 140 BCE. But these assumptions are highly tenuous. […]
The search goes on for something that we can identify as the earliest Vinaya, the principles of monastic conduct that have set the standard for Buddhist monastics from the Buddha until now. For scholars this is part of the enigmatically meaningful need to search for the origins of things. For myself as a practicing monk, […]
Vasumitra mentions that the Dharmaguptakas held that stupa worship was meritorious, which is hardly unusual. But the school also preserves a unique list of 26 sekhiya rules pertaining to conduct around the stupa. The obvious reading of these two bits of information is that the Dharmaguptakas had a special emphasis on the stupa cult. But […]
When writing Sects & Sectarianism, I tried to account for the modern critical assessments of the evidence as best I could. However, since this is a part-time project done amid a busy schedule, it’s difficult to keep up with everything. Just recently I came across an article by Heinz Bechert dealing with Aśoka’s ‘so-called’ schism […]
Devadatta is depicted as the archetypal villain in all Buddhist traditions. Reginald Ray has argued for a radical reassessment of Devadatta as a forest saint who was unfairly maligned in later monastic Buddhism. His work has been influential, but it relies on omissions and mistaken readings of the sources. Ray’s claim that ‘there is no overlap between the Mahāsaṅghika treatment [of Devadatta] and that of the five [Sthavira] schools’ is untrue. On the contrary, the manner in which Devadatta is depicted in the Mahāsaṅghika is broadly similar to the Sthavira accounts. Such differences as do exist are literary rather than doctrinal. The stories of Devadatta’s depravity became increasingly lurid in later Buddhism, but this is a normal feature of the mythologizing process, and has nothing to do with any antagonism against forest ascetics. In any case, the early sources are unanimous in condemning Devadatta as the instigator of the first schism in the Buddhist community.
The Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta is the most influential scripture in Buddhist meditation. It is the foundation text for the modern schools of ‘vipassanā’ or ‘insight’ meditation. The well-known Pali discourse is, however, only one of many early Buddhist texts that deal with mindfulness. This is the first full-scale study to encompass all extant versions of the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta, taking into account the dynamic evolution of the Buddhist scriptures and the broader Indian meditative culture. A new vision emerges from this groundbreaking study: mindfulness is not a system of ‘dry insight’ but is the ‘way to convergence’ leading the mind to deep states of peace.
Why are there so many schools of Buddhism? Are the differences just cultural, or do they have fundamentally different visions of Dhamma? This work assesses the claims of the traditions, and takes into account to findings of modern scholarship. It pays special attention to the origins of the monastic orders. If we are to understand the differences, and sometimes tensions, between the schools of Buddhism today, we must examine more closely the forces that spurred their formation.